The blockchain is the second opportunity of the internet
This post is the transcription to English of an interview written by Germán Sierra, that UOC News published initially in Catalan here:
«The blockchain is the second opportunity of the internet, a way to fix what has been done in the net.»
GS. Everyone has heard about the blockchain. It is one of the technologies mentioned above as a promise for the future, but we already have it here, and we can already use it. Marc Rocas is one of the people of Catalonia most involved in the development and dissemination of this technology. Rocas holds a Ph.D. in the Digital Commons research group (DIMMONS) and studies the interrelation of the blockchain with the collaborative economy and the intersection of this technology with the cooperative world. Also, it chairs the Blockchain Catalunya association, from which it is dedicated to making the community of users of this technology grow by organizing events and meetings. Rocas is an associate professor of strategic management at the University of Barcelona and a strategic management consultant in the field of the blockchain.
GS. Everyone has heard about the blockchain, but what exactly is it?
MR. The first difficulty in defining it is that we use the term chain of blocks or blockchain in a polysemic way. From a strictly technological point of view, we can describe blockchain as a distributed database that maintains a single record of shared transactions for all nodes in the network. However, at the same time, it is also a general-purpose technology in a very startling phase of development. When we talk about the general-purpose, we mean that blockchain affects all areas. An example of general-purpose technology would be the same internet. The blockchain is often compared to the internet in the 1990s. They have many similarities.
GS. For a while, we interviewed Hervé Falciani, and he defined the blockchain as a trusted community, a kind of giant WhatsApp in which some experts validate the information that comes up. Do you think it's a precise definition?
MR. That is an excellent example of the definition of the governance of the system. The blockchain contains three levels of governance: the governance of the same network, which comes from the consensus protocol that is established within the blockchain; the governance of system users, who have the distributed ownership of the system and make decisions about it; and, above these two, interaction governance with the market, which would be similar to the relationship that is established between any service and the users. Blockchain allows us to rely on actors to make transactions without having to rely on them before because the network has already told us that this actor is valid.
GS. The blockchain is a technology that operates on another technology, which is the internet. That is, all the operations that we want to do with the blockchain must necessarily run on the internet.
MR. Yes, and that's important because blockchain already has the user experience made, we already know how the internet works. For the user, it is as simple as opening an application in the mobile or a tab in the browser of the computer. If you are a user who wants to discover the blockchain and are in the vicinity of Barcelona, you have a vast community to familiarize yourself with. I would start here to meet people from the community. The possibility of becoming a member of the Blockchain Catalunya association is also enjoyable. Right now, there is a world of boiling, and much information is available.
GS. What are the main advantages of using this technology?
MR. My opinion is somewhat biased because I am a great advocate, but I would like to point out that the fact that blockchain potentially allows a transformation of systems of economic and social value is a big plus. For example, the blockchain can design a large network of the collaborative economy that operates in a city. In the energy field, it allows you to eliminate intermediaries and democratize energy. It is a technology that enables you to collectivize assets. I know that all this sounds very revolutionary, but it is fascinating to be able to develop the management of common goods through special incentives. An example: I can work on the fight against climate change, which would be a global asset, but I do it individually because working on it, I get a personal benefit. This duality makes the blockchain very interesting.
GS. Moreover, what are the negative aspects?
MR. There is a technological division. It is evident that a new culture is needed to use the blockchain. There is a solid and rigid security area. I would also emphasize the fact that it is delightful. Right now, it's a fad, and it has generated much noise around you. The blockchain is not useful for doing everything. My advice is that if you can do something without the blockchain, do not do it with the blockchain. You better take advantage of the already mature technologies. I, as a consultant, the first task in diagnosing what I do is to convince customers of the need to use the blockchain, and many times, I do not recommend it.
GS. What percentage of the global and connected world does the blockchain use?
MR. There is not a very massive blockchain adoption, although it is a sector that moves much money. When I say that blockchain is not a mature technology, I mean, for example, that we do not have standards. There is no dominant platform, but there are several that operate, and for now, it is unknown how the winner will be, and it will be imposed in a few years. To get an idea, go through what happened with the VHS and Beta video formats, with the war between the two standards in the eighties.
GS. In the legislative aspect, blockchain, as a technology that challenges the system, can find problems?
MR. It is a complicated answer. For many people, the blockchain is the second opportunity of the internet, a way to fix what the internet has made wrong. From the business point of view, the blockchain can represent substantial cost savings because the elimination of intermediaries makes the company have optimal systems. Companies are interested in implementing the blockchain, and the regulator has a challenging position in this task. First of all, you have to put order and, in a system as open as blockchain, this is complex. If you regulate too early, there is the risk of eliminating innovation. If the regulation comes too late, it may not respond appropriately when the negative externalities appear. There is also a political background: the choice between regulating in the American way, that is to say, minimal, or a European-style regulation, more guaranteeing.
GS. Is it a technology that is widespread in Spain?
MR. It depends on the scope. In Catalonia, from the Blockchain Catalonia Association, we are planning to put into operation an observatory of the sector that, through a collaborative map, shows us in real time and dynamically the blockchain sector in Catalonia. Once we started it, we saw that we thought we were a community that was smaller than we are. In the academic aspect, there is a lot of power and much research, and in the business aspect, the stage of technology development is generating an atmosphere between collaboration and competition, what we call co-opetition. In Spain, there is the case of Alastria, which is a very powerful consortium driven by companies in the IBEX environment. In Catalonia, the community is very active, but users are the ones we are, pioneering users and early adopters. I think that we miss a killer application to reach high volumes of use, but it will eventually arrive.
GS. What does the university do about the blockchain? Will you teach to use it in the same way that you now explain to the program?
MR. That is happening now. I am aware that Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Nicosia and many other centers already have courses related to the blockchain. Here in Catalonia, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), for example, also offers training. Even the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) begins on June 26, a seminar called "Blockchain Technology as a tool for social transformation." In the future, however, there will be no sense of general education about the blockchain, because we will already have it integrated. Now nobody teaches the internet, but technology aspects are much more specific and oriented towards making a particular application. With the blockchain, the same thing will happen, but you still have to spend a few years to see it.